Don Klosterman is a widely forgotten hero amongst Kansas City Chiefs fans and it was one of our great commentor’s, berttheclock, that brought him up in the thread of my latest top 5 countdown of players by the decade. I started with the 1960’s, or in other words, the glory days of Chiefs football and Bert brought up Klosterman, an old executive for several teams in the AFL and NFL, and the significant impact he had on building Kansas City’s championship roster.
Nicknamed The Duke of Del Ray for his unique attire and way with words, Klosterman wasn’t just an executive, as he had one of the most successful college careers as a quarterback for Loyola University. He led the nation in passing his senior year (1951), and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, only to be stuck sitting behind legendary quarterback, Otto Graham.
Six weeks after being drafted by Cleveland, Klosterman was traded to the Los Angeles Rams where again, he got stuck behind a legendary quarterback in Norm Van Brocklin.
In 1957, Klostermans life was changed forever when he was involved in a horrible skiing accident that broke his spine. He was told he would never walk again, though his spirit would not be broken. Frank Gifford, an NFL Hall of Famer and former reporter, wrote a book titled “Gifford on Courage” in which he studied athletes who were forced to face the deepest depths of their courage during times of adversity.
In the book, Gifford talks about the moment when Klosterman was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Gifford wrote,
“Klosterman picked up a vase of flowers from his bedside and hurled them at the doctor, hitting him squarely in the back as he turned to leave.” Klosterman was later quoted about hitting the doctor with the vase saying “It was the first time I ever threw behind my receiver”
Speaks volumes about what type of man Klosterman was, and shows why he was nicknamed “The Duke” for his witty personality and ways with words. He did eventually walk again with the aid of a cane and extensive rehab.
After losing his playing career to injury, Klosterman found himself in professional football once again, this time as an executive. He started with the Los Angeles Chargers of the AFL, where he joined the management staff that included a pair of future legends: Al Davis, future coach and chief executive of the Raiders, and Chuck Noll, future coach of the Steelers.
Klosterman quickly became a powerful figure in the AFL, as he started outbidding the NFL for players like Lance Alworth and Jack Kemp for the Chargers. It all changed when Klosterman was signed away from the Chargers by Lamar Hunt, owner the Dallas Texans, in 1962. The following year, the team was moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs.
Over a three year span, Klosterman would become a talent scout and executive for the Kansas City Chiefs, helping to build a legendary time for Kansas City sports. Perhaps the three biggest moves Klosterman ever made were lure Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanon, and Otis Taylor away from the NFL.
Bell was a highly decorated defensive lineman from the University of Minnesota who was certain to stay instate with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, but, had built a good relationship with Klosterman because of his “trustworthy” personality .
Buchanon was drafted in the NFL, but not until the 19th round and Klosterman assured Buchanon he would be the number one pick in the AFL draft if he decided to make the jump.
He held up that end, making Buchanon the first African American number one pick in professional football history when Kansas City drafted him in 1963.
It was the signing of Otis Taylor though, that changed everything. See, the Chiefs had a leg up in their scouting department back then, not only because of Klosterman, but because of a man by the name of Lloyd Wells.
Wells was well-connected with smaller, all-black colleges in the south, an area of the country that wasn’t scouted to heavily by the NFL back then. Wells is known to be another crucial architect to Kansas City’s success as well. Anyway, Wells had been a long time friend to the Taylor family so the immediate connection was there and Kansas City drafted him in 1965.
However, the Dallas Cowboys wanted Taylor as well, so they invited him to join them for Thanksgiving. Of course Otis couldn’t say no, so he went on a recruiting trip to Dallas and stopped returning Klosterman’s phone calls from Kansas City.
Alarmed by the non response, Klosterman called Taylor’s mother who herself thought Otis had been kidnapped. Klosterman found out that Taylor was in a hotel in Richardson, Texas with Cowboys scouts and representatives and he immediately sent Lloyd Wells to bring Otis Taylor back.
Wells went down to the Holiday Inn Taylor was being “held” in by the Cowboys, but the Cowboys representatives recognized him and refused to let him through the lobby. So Wells made his way around back, where Otis would spot him from outside his window.
Wells was able to convince Otis to leave with him right then and there, sneaking out on the back patio and not even packing his bags. Taylor signed with the Chiefs the next day in what would become the most legendary caper of the AFL-NFL player wars.
This very interesting story is told by Taylor, and others, in an HBO documentary titled, “Rebels With A Cause: The Story Of The American Football League”. A highly recommended watch for all you football historians.
Klosterman didn’t stay in Kansas City much longer after the Taylor signing, as he left the Chiefs in 1965 to head back to LA and the California coast. When asked what it was like living in Kansas City, Klosterman said,
It’s a little like living in purgatory. It’s not exactly heaven, but it isn’t hell.
Without really getting a chance to grasp what he had done in Kansas City, Klosterman moved on with the Colts and Los Angeles Rams, where at the time, he was viewed as the best GM in the league. The Chiefs went on to win Super Bowl IV on the backs of Hall of Fame players that he had scouted, drafted, and signed.
Klosterman passed away on June 7th, 2000 at the age of 70. “The Duke” deserves a lot of credit, as he was the main architect of the Kansas City Chiefs’ championship runs, and a pioneer to professional football. His accomplishments in Kansas City should never be under-appreciated or forgotten.